SHEFFIELD Wednesday came within 10 minutes of becoming the first team to take home a point from the Cardiff City Stadium yesterday.
Had they do so it would have been rich reward for a performance brimming with graft, discipline and tenacity.
Dave Jones had urged his players to come out fighting after the home shocker against Watford last Tuesday and that is what they did - showing clear commitment to the cause and the manager.
Their response was acknowledged by the Owls fans present. Instead of the boos that greated last week’s flop, there was a chorus of “Wednesday we love you” after the final whistle.
Only a late goal by winger Craig Conway broke Wednesday’s sterling resistance and gave Cardif a record-breaking 10th successive home win as Jones’ old club went back to the top of the Championship.
A home win had been predictable and the Bluebirds did have most of the possession and strikes at goal but Wednesday restricted the home side’s opportunities and confounded any pessisimists who expected them to get a drubbing.
Besides showing terrific workrate and commitment to nullify the leaders, the Owls created a one of the best chances of the game, involving Michail Antonio and sub Gary Madine, which could have put them ahead in the 57th minute and boosted their hopes of avoiding a sixth successive defeat. A Danny Mayor debut and a surprise recall for David Prutton were among four Wednesday changes.
Prutton, back last week from a three-month loan spell at Scunthorpe, and Mayor, who has had to be patient for his chance, came in with Jose Semedo ruled out by a knee injury and Rhys McCabe dropping to the bench after being a doubt because of his ankle problem.
Also in were Chris O’Grady and Martin Tayor with Jay Bothroyd and Anthony Gardner kept out by ankle and hamstring injuries respectively.
It was a blow for Bothroyd who will have been keen to play against his old club.
Wednesday had a close call in the first minute. Craig Bellamy sped to the byline and pulled the ball to left-back Andrew Taylor, who scooped a chance over the bar.
But there was little difference between the sides in the first quarter of an hour.
The Owls had Mamady Sidibe as a lone striker, Chris Lines and Prutton as holding midfield players, Mayor in front of them, and Michail Antonio and O’Grady on the midfield flanks with a licence to support Sidibe when possible.
Centre-half Mark Hudson headed a half-chance over the top from a corner, and Cardiff began to build momentum.
Wednesday got bodies in the way of shots and crosses, and Chris Kirkland stopped a 25-yard shot by midfielder Jordean Mutch.
It look 25 minutes for Wednesday to threaten the Cardiff goal. A free-kick by Lines was flicked on by Miguel Llera and helped on by Taylor; Sidibe swung a leg at the ball and it was deflected for a corner.
Sidibe also seemed to be troubled by an injury, and he was replaced by Gary Madine in the 34th minute.
Wednesday were unable to trouble Cardiff going forward but they continued to show plenty of resolve in their own half and prevented the title contenders from making clear-cut chances.
Another Lines free-kick represented a rare opportunity to get the ball in the Cardiff box. It was firmly cleared, but the Owls did likewise when they were next pinned back.
Wednesday were also keeping the home crowd quiet; there were even a few boos of frustration when the half-time whistle sounded.
The second half began with Bellamy setting up an opportunity for strike partner Heidar Helguson.
Prutton was booked for interference at a Cardiff free-kick and then lived dangerously with a foul on the edge of the box a few minutes later.
Wednesday’s wall blocked the free-kick from set-piece ace Peter Whittingham, but pressure returned immediately and a backheel from Hudson forced a save from Kirkland.
A great tackle by Hudson halted Mayor when the debut-maker looked like going clear in the box.
But Wednesday should have taken the lead with the best chance of the match so far, in the 57th minute.
Antonio, surging forward in the middle of the box, seemed to have a clear opportunity to shoot but elected to pass to the unmarked Madine; from the right of goal. The striker struck a low shot that was saved by the leg of David Marshall.
Jeremy Helan was booked for a foul and, like Prutton a little earlier, sailed close to the wind with a another infringement soon afterwards.
Wednesday’s kept up their defensive tenacity yet could have gone behind cruelly when they were temporarily down to 10 men.
Taylor was receiving attention on the touchline for a cut when a right-wing cross sailed into the box and Cardiff sub striker Rudy Gestede powered a downward header just past Kirkland’s left-hand post.
The fact that Malkay Mackay sent on forwards Gestede and Joe Mason and took off eight-goal Helguson and wide man Bo-Kyung Kim bore testimony to the way Wednesday had shackled the home team - and the Owls deserved a bit of luck when a Bellamy shot was deflected then blocked.
But Wednesday were not so fortunate in the 80th minute.
When the ball broke out to Conway, no-one was able to get close enough to close him down; he let fly from just outside the area and the ball sped into Kirkland’s bottom right-hand corner.
Rodri, on for O’Grady, forced a corner, and Llera had a crack at goal from a 25-yard free-kick, but Cardiff held firm.
Then Kirkland went up for two corners in four minutes of stoppage time and the Bluebirds survived intense pressure. But once again it was not the Owls’ day.